Entering 2007 WWE Studios was on quite a roll as a studio. While not exactly massive hits their movies See No Evil and The Marine did well enough financially and were at least top five when it came to weekend box office. Their next move was to try and make a movie with someone not on the roster at the time. Enter “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. One of the biggest stars all time he is one of the few wrestlers that regular people have heard of. Austin has reportedly sold 12 million t-shirts, has held the WWE World title 6 times and his feud with Mr. McMahon is one of the most memorable in history before retiring in 2002. Despite his Hall of Fame worthy career he never really crossed over into movies. He had made some appearances on TV shows like Nash Bridges and Celebrity Deathmatch but aside from a brief role in The Longest Yard, nothing. Still with someone so synonymous with the WWE it’s easy to see why they would go with Austin.
Funnily enough this is the one other WWE movie I saw in theaters. Much like See No Evil before it I remember generally enjoying the movie. Of course this was nearly a decade ago and I’d really like to think I’ve become a more discerning audience since then. At the very least I’m hoping my taste in bad movies is better.
Wrestler- “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Wrestling Moves Used- 1
Real Stars- Vinnie Jones, Rich Hoffman
Waiting on death row inmate Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) is recruited by a sleazy TV producer to be on his new program. Conrad and nine other convicts are put on a remote island where they have 30 hours to kill each other. The last man standing will be granted freedom. So yes, a WWE take on The Most Dangerous Game.
Scott Wiper, we meet again. In case you forgot Scott Wiper was the writer-director of The Marine 3: Homefront. More importantly I thought he sucked at his job. But hey everyone deserves a second chance, right? So I went in with an open mind and gave the guy another shot. As it turns out he was always pretty bad. Writing and directing again he seems to have a lot of the same issues he did in Marine 3. The script itself is pretty pedestrian. Riffing on The Most Dangerous Game is nothing new but rarely have I seen it handled so unoriginally. Every single bit or variation on the theme I could pinpoint to another, much better movie. The closest it got to being original was streaming the whole thing on the internet which feels quaint at this point.
In addition to this Wiper continued his tradition of being awful at directing action. Good news, it doesn’t seem to be a budget issue and low-grade cameras. Bad news, it is a far worse movie sin, the one thing that plagues all genre film fans. Of course I am talking about the dreaded shaky cam. If the scene didn’t have people talking it is a constant barrage of cuts, close ups and epilepsy inducing movement. It wasn’t just action scenes to get this treatment either. In one of the film’s quieter moments Jack Conrad’s step kids are playing outside and, no joke, it gets the shaky cam treatment. What’s the point of making an action movie if no action is actually seen?
Certainly not for the acting. Stone Cold as the lead, yikes. Now I understand you don’t need to be a great actor in a WWE movie but Austin seems to have trouble emoting. He always has the same, stern look on his face while speaking in the same tone of voice. The most we get is Austin switching the volume of his voice. So it’s either grumble quietly, grumble in his indoor voice or grumble loudly. The fact that he has at least 5 more lead roles since The Condemned is astounding.
This is especially obvious when compared to the rest of the cast. Keep in means that by no means is this an acting clinic. For the most part the cast is played as a mix of broad stereotypes. But considering the script they’re given they are alright. Vinnie Jones plays the sociopath villain quite well. You can easily believe dude is the soccer hooligan from hell. Equally slimy is Robert Mammone as evil millionaire Ian Breckel. He gives off the kind of evil rich guy performance usually reserved for Bond movies and 80’s teen romcoms. The real highlight is actor Rick Hoffman. As the tech guy Goldie he plays the exacerbated, smarmy, put upon comedy relief to Breckel. The key word being comedy because he provides some much needed levity. The rest of the supporting cast is fine. Not given much to do but do their best with what they have. It really is the saving grace of the film
Now “death game” fiction (which is apparently what it is called) always flirts with the morality of the situation. From The Hunger Games to Gamer this comes up. It’s a well-worn trope that I’m usually fine with. What doesn’t work for me is having at least three separate characters do the whole “Have we gone too far?” bit. Each of their moments of doubt culminating in a Diane Sawyer-esque character hammering it home. Talking about how she interviewed our Ian Breckel and she talks about how she was disgusted by the whole affair. How it’s inhumane, barbaric and everything else we’ve heard before. Then, amidst random shaky cam, she says it. The one thing to push this over the top into awful for me, “Are we really the condemned?” I could literally see a writer typing this all out thinking they made some grand statement about violence in the media. Thinking that this piece of dialogue will finally make people think. After showing us a couple of explosions, lighting someone on fire and an unnecessary rape scene for the past two hours. No writer, you don’t get to pull that. You haven’t changed anybody’s mind about violence or the media. You haven’t earned it in any way, shape or form. Congrats Scott Wiper, you are officially my Joker.
Well, I was wrong about that one but I wasn’t the only one. Somehow convinced that this was a good movie WWE Studios actually did a screening for critics and it was eviscerated. It didn’t do any better at the box office getting crushed coming in at 9th place barely early $3.8 million losing out to cinematic classics like Fracture, The Invisible and Next. With all this in mind it’s no wonder that it was nearly a decade before a new Condemned movie was released starring Randy Orton.
I find Randy Orton to be an interesting case as a wrestler. On the surface he has all the tools to be the biggest star in the world. Debuting in 2002 the 22 year old quickly rose up the ranks. First as a member of Evolution and then as a bonafide main eventer. In 2004 he became the youngest world champion in company history at 24; a record he still holds. Unfortunately his time as THE guy never seemed to materialize. A mix of backstage issues and a history of shoulder injuries always seemed to keep him from taking that next step. Maybe he’s a better actor than he is a wrestler. Or at least better than Steve Austin in The Condemned. Admittedly that is not a high bar to pass.
The Condemned 2
Wrestler- Randy Orton
Wrestling Moves Used- 1 (Sleeper hold!)
Real Stars- Eric Roberts
When a new version of The Condemned revamped former bounty hunter Will Turner (Randy Orton) is forced to fight to the death. Going up against his former teammates he has to do his best to survive them and the desert elements. Explosions ensue.
So yes it is basically the same as the first Condemned movie. In fact it may be even more traditional since they take out the whole “But YOU are the condemned” sermon and keep it a straight action movie with the douchey rich people seen in the Undisputed sequels. The cast of “contestants” is smaller and all looks low budget compared to the first. So why did I come out of The Condemned 2 so much happier than the first movie?
It certainly wasn’t the villain. While there are a lot of things to complain about in the first movie the villains aren’t one of them. The Condemned 2, however, has some of the worst I’ve seen yet. None of the henchmen really come off as a threat. Or much of anything for that matter. Aside from a sniper who is a bit more determined than everyone else none of them I couldn’t pick them out of a line up. The only person to make an impression is big baddie Raul and it’s for all the reasons. I don’t know if he did it because the Breaking Bad checks were running dry or he was having an off month but Steven Michael Quezada is terrible in this. While the script is nothing special his overacting does not help. Every line felt forced, even for a WWE movie. Not helping is the fact that dude looked tiny in this movie. All of Raul’s bodyguards were taller than him and standing atop a stage just made it more obvious. By the time the 5’7″ actor had to fight the 6’5″ Orton at the end no amount of editing or camera trickery could make this look like a fair fight.
This is a problem for Orton’s casting in general. No matter who he went up against it looked a bit silly. As for his acting, eh. He’s certainly better than Austin was but that’s hardly a great accomplishment. But really he’s perfectly average in the role given. The only time he really looks bad is when Eric Roberts is on screen. It would be easy to say it is because he’s a real actor but it is so much more than that. Playing Will Turner’s father he steals every scene by getting the best lines, being a badass and being just plain charismatic. When compared to this Orton didn’t have a chance.
In the directing chair is WWE Studios veteran director Roel Reiné. Last seen (by me anyway) with The Marine 2 and I remember being impressed. Losing the shaky cam of the last film Reiné brings a workman, direct-to-video look that the last movie needed desperately. In fact he’s improved since The Marine 2 with action scenes looking better. The last 10 minutes look way better than I expected. Shame that the budget couldn’t match this potential. The biggest bit being the fact that the desert is a pretty bland place to set a film. Without any variety the New Mexico desert has only so many locations to shoot before it all starts to look the same. Despite how good it looks I also found the action to be lacking. Aside from the crazy kill I can’t say any actions scenes were all that memorable and is fairly basic, even by direct to video standards.
Doing this series I have noticed a pattern with WWE action movies. When it comes to the franchises no matter how bad the original is it will get better on the home video circuit and The Condemned 2 is no different. Despite all of the problems it has I came out of The Condemned 2 pretty positive. While better than the first I think the main reason is that the movie knows what it is. At no point does it try to give some message or make a point. It is simply a low budget action movie and on that level it succeeds. If nothing else it gives Randy Orton over Stone Cold Steve Austin.
That’s a wrap on The Condemned series. Next month we cover the 12 Rounds series. Will John Cena show an emotion? Will Randy Orton’s streak of decent movies continue? How distracting will Dean Ambrose’s hairline be? Find out on the next edition of Wrestling is Reel.